Designer as realtor

photo by Scott Web

This spring, my partner and I searched for homes up and down the state and came across a variety of realtors.

In the various mindsets I saw in the realtors, I saw reflections of the mindsets of a UX designer. It brought to light how much UX design is a service-oriented job — we are often the conduit between complex, unfriendly systems and the real live human being who is our user.

Realtor (and UX designer) mindsets:

In a realtor. One of our realtors didn’t want to find out information about a house because they didn’t want to bother or annoy the listing agent. For us as the clients, this meant we had to find out that information ourselves. Ultimately we just ended up going with a different realtor, when we realized they were not going to advocate for us.

In a designer: Sometimes it’s clear that doing what’s the best for our users means that you have to ruffle some feathers, or get into a conversation/conflict with leaders and other departments. And it’s clear that it’ll take maybe 10 times longer than if you go the easy route. And you might be the youngest person in the room, or the only person of color, or the newest person. Personally, looking back, I’ve swerved from the right route plenty of times, especially when I first started in this field, but I’ve realized that prioritizing my own comfort over users means a poorer experience for users, who then need to go out of their way to achieve their goals.

In a realtor: We met a realtor who just plainly HUSTLED. When we happened to stumble upon a listing that was only accepting offers for 15 more minutes, we asked them if they could submit an offer, knowing it was a long shot. But the realtor somehow pulled it off. When we were looking at a house and noticed another nearby up for sale, they researched and made calls on the fly until we were in the house in 10 minutes. In our interactions with them, they were often glued to their tablet, gathering data and giving us relevant information immediately.

Yet the sense we got from this realtor was that they were a bit more agnostic to whether we met our long-term goals of finding a home that we loved, and more keenly attuned to how we can immediately secure a house. They definitely weren’t like the realtors we heard stories of, who would try to get their clients to pay the highest price for a house so they would get a higher commission. The only thing lacking was something we met in our final realtor — helping us see a vision for the future.

In a designer: Working in agile, we sometimes work in short cycles that have clear goals — ex. redesign this page so that devs can start building it in the sprint X. As I’ve worked more in agile, I feel like I’ve learned to navigate the system and language in a way that helps me meet sprint goals, but that I’ve realized that doesn’t always meet the our goal of doing the best for users. Sometimes, the best solution is not to redesign thing A but to completely redo thing B, C, and X. Hustling to meet short-term goals means things get done, but the longer-term vision and purpose of what we do to help people can get lost.

In a realtor: We met a realtor who managed to bring something unexpected in the chaotic, stressful process of buying a house — calm. After our first conversation with them, I realized I felt a sense of peace I hadn’t felt since we started on this journey. They recognized our ultimate goal of finding a home, and coaxed us to be patient and to not settle. It was clear they wanted us to be happy even if it meant certain deals fell through.

The realtor was also just purely passionate about houses. They renovated houses as a side business, and they helped us distinguish between big warning signs versus surface-level issues. We felt like we had a knowledgeable guide who truly cared about homes, and who was thinking of our needs far out into the future.

In a designer: Making products can be complex and scary, especially for business stakeholders who are responsible for their success but don’t always know how to get there. As I’ve worked on different projects with different designers and leaders, I’ve seen how designers can bring calm to their projects, and give a sense of reassurance that even though things are complex and uncertain, the project will find its way. Or we can help hone on to the ultimate larger purpose and goal of how everyone on the project is there to help users.


During the house-buying process, I saw these principles in play for designers and realtors:

  • We are beholden to a good user experience, even if it means the user chooses to go with a different service
  • We advocate to get our users the info they need, even if it’s difficult, murky and takes conflict to surface it
  • We educate our users on the nuances of the product, so they can make an educated decision
  • We provide calm during a time of difficult and stressful choices for our business partners and our users, and paint a vision of the future

My partner and I did ultimately find a house with the 3rd realtor, and continued to appreciate the calm they brought to the process as we went through closing.

User Experience Designer